The Ministry of Defence (MoD) will aim to more than double its number of female recruits as part of a series of changes following a report into the bullying and harassment of women in the armed services.
More than 4,000 women gave evidence to the Defence Sub-Committee on Women in the Armed Forces for its landmark inquiry, which found that 64% of female veterans and 58% of serving women reported experiencing bullying, harassment and discrimination (BHD) during their careers.
In its response to the report, published on Thursday, the Government said the inquiry “made clear that on too many occasions Defence has failed to provide women with the experience they deserve”.
The MoD unveiled a number of reforms aimed at addressing the issues highlighted in the report, including an ambition to increase female inflow by 30% by 2030.
It also said the Chain of Command would be entirely removed from complaints of a sexual nature, after a large number of surveyed women said their experiences of the complaints system were “extremely poor”, with complaints often being “brushed under the carpet”.
Further adopted recommendations include a review into stronger ways of removing those who are found to have committed sexual offences, and greater independence in the system for the handling of BHD complaints.
However, the MoD said it did not accept a recommendation to move cases of rape and sexual assault from military courts to the civilian system.
According to the sub-committee, conviction rates in military courts are four to six times lower than in civilian courts.
Sarah Atherton, chairwoman of the sub-committee and an Army veteran, thanked the MoD for its “thorough” response.
She said: “There is much more work to do, but it is clear that improving the experiences of women in the Armed Forces is becoming a priority for the Ministry of Defence. I would like to thank the Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace, for his ongoing commitment to servicewomen and veterans.
“Our inquiry discovered that six out of ten women who had experienced abuse, did not complain for fear of the impact it would have on their career, or because they thought nothing would be done.
“The fact that a servicewoman can now make a sexual complaint safe in the knowledge that her direct Chain of Command won’t be handling it is a huge step forward.
“There is also set to be a more robust process for handling complaints of Bullying, Harassment and Discrimination – although questions remain over what this means in practice. I hope that this is the beginning of a new era of accountability for the military.”
However, she called the MoD’s decision to dismiss the sub-committee’s recommendation on military courts “disappointing”, adding there was “clear evidence that the current system is failing to deliver justice”.
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